NEWCOMER director Jonathan Sobol takes control of an ultra-experienced ensemble cast to weave a tale of sibling rivalry, betrayal, and stolen art in The Art of the Steal.
It has been a quiet few years for Kurt Russell, who many of us have not seen since 2007 when he starred as Stuntman Mike in Quentin Tarantino’s, Death Proof.
The Art of the Steal sees Russell return as a stuntman – though with his character here having a much less murderous intent – as Crunch Calhoun, a washed-up getaway driver, trying to make his way cleanly in the world after a botched art theft landed him in a Polish prison.
With the daredevil business looking bleak – “people come here to see you crash” – the aptly named Crunch is tempted by one last job that promises to set him up for life.
The problem for Crunch is that the job – stealing the Gospel of St James; a priceless Gutenburg book – involves working with his nefarious half-brother, Nicky (Matt Dillon, also re-emerging from the depths of releative obscurity in recent years) who was responsible for Crunch serving time on the botched job.
Also on board are the brothers’ partners in crime – Guy (Chris Diamantopoulos), the master forger, and Paddy (Kenneth Welsh), the old bull of the group who, armed with a fairly ropey Irish accent, keeps everyone in line.
Jay Baruchel joins the gang as Francie, Crunch’s apprentice; while Terence Stamp is operating on the side of the law trying to foist the plans.
It is a standout cast that are more rough and ready than Ocean’s Eleven, but are just as determined to get the job done.
Writer and director Jonathan Sobol evidently is a fan of the heist genre, and The Art of the Steal is jammed with all the essentials of a good heist film – colourful characters, snappy dialogue, and a bit of mystery.
If anything, Sobol leans a little too heavily on imitation – the occasional drops in an impressively taut story are moments where the film tries too hard to emulate genre classics.
However, even when you brush the shades of the Coen Brothers and Guy Richie aside, you’re still left with an impressive show.
Russell’s old and wizened Crunch works brilliantly alongside Baruchel’s greenhorn Francie – it is their dynamic that drives much of the comedy throughout.
For the most part, there are solid performances all around, Dillon suits the villain, and Stamp manages to steal every scene he appears in.
Despite all that it has going for it, The Art of the Steal doesn’t quite pull off that perfect job. For a heist that revolves around stolen bibles, there’s a little too much revelation towards the end that will divide audiences.
Lacking the pizazz of Ocean’s Eleven, or the grittiness of Snatch, it leaves us somewhere in the middle-ground.
The Art of the Steal is a neat and entertaining tale from a promising director; expect lots of laughs alongside some great action, but no new ground to be broken.